April 18, 2002 -- "Brotherhood of the Wolf" (Le Pacte des loups) is sort of like a French version of "Jaws." It's a big, sprawling adventure yarn that's a lot more like a Hollywood film than a European film, except for the nudity and the people in fancy period costumes sitting around making polite conversation.
The most obvious "Jaws" rip-off is a scene where a young woman is attacked by a beast. We see the woman being thrashed around and we hear her screaming, but we can't see what is attacking her, just like Chrissy. The unknown thing that is attacking the woman is the legendary "Beast of Gévaudan" which reportedly killed some 100 people in the Margeride Mountains of south-central France from 1764 to 1767. Like some legends, this one is based on facts: an unknown assailant, possibly a large animal of some kind, did kill a lot of people in that area during those years. Fox Mulder would have loved to have solved this mystery. This movie offers an explanation of those deaths.
Samuel Le Bihan stars as Grégoire de Fronsac, a hunky libertine naturalist who comes to Gévaudan to study the beast, along with his Mohawk Indian pal from America, Mani (played by Mark Dacascos of "The Crow: Stairway to Heaven" TV show). Mani is not only a shaman, who can cure diseases and commune with animal spirits, but he is also a master of the martial arts. He must have studied at the Mohawk Shaolin Temple. Soon, he gets into a fight for no good reason and is soon kicking all sorts of French booty. This is typical behavior in a martial arts film. It should come as no surprise that Mark Dacascos is not a real Mohawk, but is a martial arts expert. Aside from gruesome animal attacks and the occaisional kick boxing match, the first part of the film moves fairly slowly. There are a lot of scenes with people in historic French costumes making witty conversation. It is mostly static. This drags on for some time. There is also plenty of nudity at the local whorehouse. One of the partially-eaten beast victims also appears topless, if that sort of thing interests you. There is also a lot of violence, blood and gore on the film.
Eventually, the story gets rolling when Mani uses some of that old Mohawk mojo to confront the elusive beast. Grégoire and Mani put up an impressive fight against the computer-generated monster. Later, in a series of revelations, they find out more about the beast and a related shadowy conspiracy. Going along for the ride are Sylvia (Monica Bellucci), a courtesan, Jean-François de Morangias (played by Vincent Cassel of "Shrek"), a nobleman and his pretty sister, Marianne de Morangias (Emilie Dequenne). The conspiracy involving the beast is of Oliver Stone proportions. It is quite a complicated and outlandish yarn that requires a lot of time to explain. It would have made a better comedy than a drama. Something less cumbersome might have been more effective.
Cinematographer Dan Laustsen of "Mimic" uses an impressive bag of tricks during the film with lots of slow-motion, fast-motion, stop-action and stop-and-go action shots, sometimes all combined into one elaborate sequence. The opening sequence evolving seamlessly from a helicopter shot to some kind of high-speed steadicam-like ground shot is impressive. The colors are lush, the costumes and sets are lavish in this big production. The animatronic creature effects are good, but the computerized animation is so-so (both created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop). The production values are generally high. The acting is quite good. It is a good-looking film. The problem is the story just doesn't quite hang together. The flashback story construction seems superfluous. There is also no payoff when it comes to the beast. We never find out just what it is (one cryptozoologist speculated the beast may have been an undiscovered giant subspecies of the pine marten, but the movie advances a theory even more implausible). Some of the character motivations are way over the top, one love obsession in particular. There is almost no character development. We learn little or nothing about most of the main characters. Those are some of the reasons it looks more like a Hollywood film than a foreign film. Hollywood films are often about extraordinary people and events. European films are more often about ordinary people and events. This movie certainly fits the former category. It rates a C+.
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